At 0300 hours on 22 June, 1941, Adolph Hitler unleashed the greatest military invasion in history, Operation Barbarossa, against his former ally of convenience, the Soviet Union. The Red Army and Air Force, weakened by losses from the Russo-Finnish War and Stalin’s purges of senior military officers during the 1930’s, had been ordered by Moscow to concentrate their main combat strength in Poland and the Baltic States in anticipation of a possible German attack. These hapless Soviet units, poorly deployed and badly led, had no chance against the initial German onslaught. As a precursor of things to come, the Red Air Force was caught on the ground and smashed by the Luftwaffe before the war had even properly begun.
The Germans seemed unstoppable. In the first months of the war, the Wehrmacht killed or captured millions of Russian troops as it raced forward in an unrelenting drive ever deeper into the Russian heartland. On December 5, advanced elements of Germany’s Army Group Center fought their way to within sight of the Kremlin Towers, a scant twenty-five miles away. But that would be the closest that Hitler’s armies would ever come to Moscow. On 5 December, the Red army — reinforced by tough, seasoned troops who had recently been transferred from Siberia — smashed into the exhausted, ill-equiped, and over-extended soldiers of the Werhmacht and threw them back all along the front. This ferocious Russian counteroffensive would continue until the early spring and would finally only sputter out at the end of March, 1942. The Germans had failed to defeat Soviet Russia in 1941; although the war would rage on for three more unbelievably brutal years, the Third Reich would never again come so close to victory over the Soviet Union as it did during the summer and fall of 1941.
FIRE IN THE EAST is an operational (division/brigade/regiment/battalion) simulation of the first nine and half months of the Russo-German War, 1941-45. The game begins with the German invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941 and concludes at the end of March, 1942. It is this critical period, covering the time from the initial German invasion through to the end of the first Soviet winter counteroffensive, that the survival of Soviet Union was most in jeopardy. FIRE IN THE EAST, besides being a complete game, is also the first installment in GDW’s EUROPA Project: a comprehensive simulation of all of all of World War II combat in Europe, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the Middle East.
FIRE IN THE EAST is played using the standard Europa (two weeks per turn) game format. One player commands the Soviet forces; the other player controls the German Army as well as military units from several of Germany’s Axis allies. The game is nineteen turns long. Like the other Europa Series games, FIRE IN THE EAST uses the familiar KURSK Game System for its basic design architecture and then adds a number of additional game subroutines. Each game turn is divided into two more-or-less symmetrical player turns. A typical player turn will progress in the following action sequence: Initial Phase; (Ground and Naval) Movement Phase; Air Phase; Combat Phase; and the Exploitation (combat/motorized) Movement Phase. FIRE IN THE EAST: EUROPA I, as anyone who is familiar with the Europa Game System knows, is not a simple game. However, the turn phases are logically sequenced and, with just a little practice, players will usually find that they can learn the basic mechanics of the land game quickly. The Armored Effects, Support, Stacking, Naval, and Air rules, on the other hand, will usually take a little more effort to master. Special game rules also cover subjects as diverse as: airborne and amphibious operations; regauging rail lines; arctic operations; moving the Soviet Capital; Russian factories; partisans; specialized roles for combat and construction engineers; and weather, to name just a few. Unit stacking is restricted by the stacking values of individual units, and by nationality. Zones of control are weak: enemy units may move directly from one opposing unit’s ZOC to another, so long as the phasing unit has sufficient movement points to pay the additional movement penalties for doing so. Combat between adjacent enemy units is voluntary, and the basic combat system relies on a traditional “odds-differential” Combat Results Table to generate random outcomes. Also, a nice (and convenient) addition to FIRE IN THE EAST is the inclusion of the Russian Cities Display, as well as Corps and Army Holding Boxes for the two belligerents. These different displays allow the players to deal easily with what would otherwise be extremely congested map hexes in certain sectors of the front.
FIRE IN THE EAST and its GDW 'cousins' is more than just a simulation of ground combat. Players exploring the EUROPA game system for the first time will quickly discover that the Air and Naval subroutines are almost independent games in their own right. This is one reason why FIRE IN THE EAST is a particularly good candidate for team play. Another is the sheer size of the playing area and the large numbers of units controlled by both sides. And as should be abundantly clear from the preceding description, FIRE IN THE EAST is clearly a title intended for experienced players; it is probably not a good choice either for most novice players or for casual gamers.
FIRE IN THE EAST offers only the Historical (June 22, 1941 Invasion) Scenario; however, both belligerents are allowed a degree of free deployment within the confines of the two opening set-ups, so the strategies of both sides can vary significantly from game to game. In addition, besides the standard rules of play, the game’s designers also offer a series of advanced and optional rules for those players who are interested either in a little more complexity, or in adding a little more variation to the play of the game.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONUnder most circumstances, FIRE IN THE EAST would be a perfect fit for my personal taste in large conflict simulations. In fact, it possesses pretty much exactly the qualities that I usually look for in a monster game. It has, among other things: wide scope of action; marked variation in unit capabilities; complex subroutines to deal with different types of combat (air-ground-naval); lots of different types of terrain; and most important of all: different, but equally challenging problems for both sides to address and solve as the game develops. Thus, when I received my copy in the mail many years ago, I was so certain that I would really like the game that I went ahead and punched and trimmed all 2,880 counters, and then methodically prepared the rules and charts for play. And yet, after setting up the Soviet frontier armies and then tinkering with the Russian defense for a few hours one summer evening, I put FIRE IN THE EAST away and never seriously looked at the game again. Which brings me to the obvious question: what happened; why didn’t I revisit this title, ever?
The answer to this question, oddly enough, has everything to do with me and my regular opponents at the time, and almost nothing to do with FIRE IN THE EAST! In reality, the major factor that prevented my becoming more interested in this title was my already long-established commitment to its aging predecessor, DNO/UNT. FIRE IN THE EAST was just too different from DNO/UNT. I and my friends had already invested almost a decade in fixing the maps and rules to the older game, and we really liked the end result of all of our hard work. Our much-refined version of DNO/UNT may not have been exactly what Frank Chadwick and Rick Banner had in mind when they came up with their original game design, but it worked for us. And even more damaging to the prospects of the new game: none of the “pet” game tactics that we had developed for both the Axis and the Soviets worked within the restrictions of the redesigned game system! Subtle changes in the rules for Soviet armor, in stacking, in air missions, and in the restrictions on Soviet fortifications, all conspired to ruin some of our favorite strategies. The fact that the new design was historically much more accurate; that the maps were a vast improvement over those of its predecessor; and that the “armored effects” and “air” rules finally made a lot more sense, didn’t matter. We had a game that we liked, and, more importantly, that we all knew how to play pretty well, and we weren’t about to give it up for the new version, no matter how much of an improvement it was. Such, I suppose are the peculiarities of human nature. And, just in case anyone is curious: yes, I still have my much-altered copy of DNO/UNT, and yes, I still play it.
Despite my own stubborn preference for DNO/UNT, however, I am still going to strongly recommend FIRE IN THE EAST for other experienced players with an interest in World War II, and particularly for those with a special fascination with the fighting on the Eastern Front. My reason is simple: the many different games that make up the EUROPA World War II game system are each in their own way, unique. Whether looking at an early design like NARVIK (1974) or a later installment like THE FALL OF FRANCE (1981), GDW invariably brings something fresh and interesting to the design process when it examines each new historical situation. This factor, just as much as sheer size, makes the EUROPA game series one of the great simulation design projects of all time. In the case of FIRE IN THE EAST, this simulation presents a fascinating and detailed look at the first months of the greatest military clash in history: the death match between Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s U.S.S.R. The drama of the opening stages of this titanic struggle alone makes the game interesting. In addition, despite its undeniable complexity, FIRE IN THE EAST offers — to those experienced gamers who are really interested in East Front operational combat during World War II — a richly textured (air-ground-naval) and very challenging game system for simulating the first months of the total war that raged on the Russian Front.
- Time Scale: 2 weeks (one fortnight) per game turn
- Map Scale: 16 miles per hex
- Unit Size: division/brigade/regiment/battle group/battalion
- Unit Types: armor/panzer, light armored/reconnaissance, mechanized infantry/panzer grenadier, motorized rifle/motorized infantry, flampanzer, assault gun, motorcycle, field artillery, siege artillery, railroad artillery, rocket artillery, heavy antiaircraft, light antiaircraft, antitank, fortified area, assault engineers, railroad engineers, cavalry, mountain cavalry, infantry/rifle, mountain infantry, light infantry/jager, static infantry, fortress infantry, ski, parachute, air landing, parachute-infantry, parachute-commando, bicycle, machinegun, marine, naval troops. Border guards, NKVD, security, police, combat engineers, construction engineers, river flotillas, naval units (assorted ship types), air units (assorted aircraft types), and information counters
- Number of Players: two (highly recommended for team play)
- Complexity: high
- Solitaire Suitability: average (if you don’t mind pushing around over 2000+ unit counters)
- Average Playing Time: 80+ hours (depending on experience of players, and whether or not individuals or teams are playing)
- Six 21” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (EUROPA Maps 1B, 2A, 3B, 4A, 5B, and 6A)
- 2,880 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” loose-leaf style Rules Booklet (with Initial Orders of Battle, Set-Up Instructions, and Reinforcement Tables incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” four page Designer’s Notes
- Two 8½” x 11” back-printed copies of the combined Combat Results Table/Terrain Effects Chart
- One 8½” x 11” Turn Record/ Reinforcement Track (with Weather Tables, Brandenburger Success Table, Supply Line Summary, Winterization Table, and Weather Zone Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” Map Legend/Terrain Key (with Unit Colors Identification Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Unit Identification Chart
- One 8½” x 11” Axis Game Chart (with Unit Breakdown Chart, Replacements Schedule, Panzer, Panzergrenadier and Motorized RP Costs Table, and Miscellaneous Tables incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” Soviet Game Chart (with Unit Breakdown Chart, Replacements Schedule, and Miscellaneous Tables incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” German Corps Marker Display
- One 8½” x 11” Soviet Army Marker Display
- Two identical 8½” x 11” Europa Air Charts
- One 8½” x 11” Russian City Display
- Two identical 2½” x 8½” small Errata Sheets (Dated 13 April, 1984)
- One six-sided Die
- One 4” x 6” GDW Customer Comments Card
- One 5” x 8” back-printed Grenadier Magazine Ad Slick
- One 11½” x 14½” x 1” Cardboard Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU